Posts Tagged 'Relational aesthetics'

Mega Engraving

Sergio Davila, Amsterdam — The beauty of the chaos in Mexico City is that anything can happen. The lack of regulations and the oligarchy of the government might be frustrating sometimes, however in a few special occasions is the perfect space for unique ideas to become real. Is quite likely that Mexico City would never have a regulation on graffiti making as the zero tolerance nowadays in Helsinki, therefore prohibition is not the answer for a mega city, it is otherwise orientation. City governments in this century should see the possibilities that cultural agency can bring, and one outstanding possibility for cultural agency is the PUBLIC SPACE artistic production. 

This technique is widely explored in the Netherlands, during the EXPERIMENTADESIGN festival in Amsterdam several designers were introducing a social behavior with their different proposals for public space art. For instance the ‘Moving Forest’, a piece by NL Architects, is thought to be an answer to the lack of green spaces in the contemporary urban environments, trees on shopping carts that people can rearrange and distribute around the city.

Moreover, the piece of Marti Guixé engages the participants in a common creation of a sculpture. The idea consist in a monolithic square surrounded by a bench and with chisels attached so that everybody can participate in the design development and modify it with their own ideas. 

These and other pieces in this festival are opening the conversation about urban issues and participation. This social art in public space is not only expressing beauty, it also engages the society in the discourse that the art piece aims to communicate. The possibility for city governments that are open to public space art production has a lot of potential. I mentioned in pasts blog posts what happened in Bogota when the government of Antanas Mockus decided to implement cultural agency in public space. The government in Mexico City has been also very inspired by these techniques and they have tried to mimic some of them, however every city needs to find their own methodologies:

The 15th of September is the celebration of independence in Mexico. In this day people normally celebrate on the streets, and the president is expected to come to the central plaza and pronounce ‘the shout’ a proclamation of independence and praise of the national heroes. This year the celebration happened as it should be in Mexico City, with the only difference that during the 15th and 16th of September 200 artists were called to participate in a ‘Mega Engraving’ throughout Reforma avenue. This Avenue is, by the way,  occupied normally by public demonstrations of syndicates and political parties, but in this occasion the pavement was not punished by the feet of masses in anger, instead it became the showroom of the Guinness record largest engraving.

Among the participants were some Novel prizes and famous artists like Leonora Carrington, Boris Viskin, José Luis Cuevas,  Vicente Rojo and also students from the art academy, writers, youth brigades and volunteers. The piece of more than one kilometer long became an space for cultural creation in a collaborative way, engaging the society in a deeper understanding of the national identity and teaching the use of engraving in a massive two days workshop assisted by huge plates and a road roller.

In my opinion we are still at the starting point of the exploration of the techniques that can be used for social enabled art and art in public space.

Relational Aesthetics

During my thesis research about societal situations structured by design I have been finding very interest examples of creative collaboration. However is still a field in development that does not have very well defined boundaries between the different fields, sometimes is more artistic, sometimes is more psycho-therapeutical, political, marketing, and so on. Participatory developments are methodologies with a huge potential, they are demanded by the societies, they are interesting opportunities for businesses, and even a comfortable way for governments to invest in culture. Therefore I consider important to start critic discussions in every field about the subject. I found recently the research work of Claire Bishop and although it still have many opportunity areas it is a breakthrough for the contemporary concept of relational aesthetics. Here I resume some important thoughts from an interview between her and Jennifer Roche. I would be very rewarding to hear some comments about it.

Socially Engaged Art, Critics and Discontents: An Interview with Claire Bishop
By Jennifer Roche

Socially engaged art, community-based art, experimental communities, dialogic art, littoral art, participatory, interventionist, research-based and collaborative art.

In socially engaged art, critic Claire Bishop believes the aesthetic is being sacrificed on the altar of social change.

“Artists are increasingly judged by their working process — the degree to which they supply good or bad models of collaboration,”

“There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond,”

Bishop draws on the notion of the aesthetic as defined by philosopher Jacques Rancière, who said that the aesthetic is the “ability to think contradiction.” “For Rancière,” writes Bishop, “the aesthetic doesn’t need to be sacrificed at the altar of social change, as it already inherently contains this ameliorative process.” In other words, art heals. No need to hurry it along

“Their work joins a tradition of highly authored situations that fuse social reality with carefully calculated artifice,” Bishop says of Deller and the others. Like Dadaism before them, they created “intersubjective relations (that) weren’t an end in themselves but rather served to unfold a more complex knot of concerns about pleasure, visibility, engagement, and the conventions of social interaction.”

Bishop clearly wishes to shed the recurring ethical themes in the critical discourse, which she often describes as Christian ideals of self-sacrifice and “good souls,” in favour of embracing the contradiction that naturally arises from the artist’s intentions.

I would like to argue that the best collaborative practices need to be thought of in terms other than their ameliorative consequences
In this context it is crucial for art practices to tread a careful line between social intervention and autonomy.

My view is inevitably influenced by living in the U.K., where New Labour have for the last nine years instrumentalised art to fulfill policies of social inclusion…

The mere fact of being collaborative, or participatory, or interactive, is not enough to legitimise a work or guarantee its significance.

If we look at the proliferation of collaborative art practices today, it seems that many no longer have the oppositional and anti-authoritarian punch they had in the late 1960s and 1970s – when radical theatre, community arts and critical pedagogy emerged in opposition to dominant modes of social control. Today participation is used by business as a tool for improving efficiency and workforce morale; it is all-pervasive in the mass-media in the form of reality television; and it is a privileged medium for government funding agencies seeking to create the impression of social inclusion.

[Lacan] would argue that the best socially collaborative art does not derive from a superegoic injunction to “love thy neighbour,” but from the position of “do not give up on your desire.”

It requires intelligence and imagination and risk and pleasure and generosity, both from the artists and the participants.

Rethinking the conventions of participation.

Overturning the very premises from which social engagement operates can be both artistically and critically invigorating.

I completely agree that turning to other disciplines can help to sharpen our mode of discussion about works of art, particularly those that step into the social arena.

I resist very strongly – is the idea that art is the “last place” to go for engagement, that it is the only remaining “free space.” This idea is dangerous and lazy.

The situation I would want to avoid is of inconsequential practices that make no impact on either field.

Kunst Werke. Berlin, Germany. September 2000
Santiago Sierra

Still from Jeremy Deller’s video,
“The Battle of Orgreave

Cesare Pietroiusti and relational art

“An artist’s intervention in an urban context should not be easily recognizable as art. I prefer ‘Who knows what that is?’, rather than, ‘It’s art, so it’s not intended for me’. “ – Cesare Pietroiusti, taken from the MIT press website

This quote by Pietroiusti (whom I mentioned before in this post) I think is emblematic for the relational approach to contemporary art, in which the viewer (in Pietroiusti’s work often participant) plays a central role. Just to make a point (and to explain why often people think art is not intended for them) I’d like to put a quote by the painter Rothko on the other end of the line:
“To take a picture out into the world is ‘an unfeeling act’. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent.” (1)
Underneath the personal and deep disgust Rothko expresses about his possible audience, lies a more fundamental thought common in this time. It’s the idea of the purified and transcendental viewer, liberated from the mundane and the banalities of popular culture, ready to step into the enlightened, sanctified realm of the artist. Absolutely not to be taken lightly, as proved by another quote from minimalist Barnett Newman:
“Harold Rosenberg challenged me to explain what one of my paintings could mean to the world. My answer was that if he and others could read it properly, it would mean the end of all state capitalism and totalitarianism.” (1)

Seems like these guys were getting a little too ‘high on their own supply’. It also shows how a relational approach to art – which involves the emancipation of the viewer; someone to be taken seriously and the sole person who can impregnate art with purpose and meaning – has been born out of an existential necessity. Because I wonder if we could still think of a legitimate reason for art, if we would have continued to despise our audience, look down on them like little, silly people. I think I might have considered a career shift myself…

For better ways of addressing and involving audiences, please read:
1. Grant H. Kester, Conversation pieces, community + communication in modern art, 2004, University of California Press, London Engeland

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